Shaq steals draft’s thunder

Remember the NBA draft of 2009 . . . as in “What draft?”

On the eve of the event, the ground trembled under the NBA amid reports from myriad sources that the Phoenix Suns are close to a deal with the Cavaliers, sending Shaquille O’Neal to Cleveland.

If the deal is done today, it will be remembered as the day the Clippers got Blake Griffin (that’s nice) and the Cavaliers got Shaquille O’Neal (HOLY MT. OLYMPUS, SHAQ AND LEBRON JAMES TOGETHER!).

The deal being discussed is similar to the one they discussed at midseason, with the Cavaliers getting a center, and the Suns getting cap relief.


The package the Suns would take back, according to Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski, is almost comical: Ben Wallace, who’s retiring and may accept a buyout; Sasha Pavlovic, whose salary is only partially guaranteed, and the 46th pick in today’s draft.

This is the latest development in what promised to be a busy draft season, which started when the Milwaukee Bucks made a similar deal, dumping Richard Jefferson’s salary on San Antonio.

In the actual draft, the Clippers will select Griffin, the lone superstar prospect.

After that, it’s anybody’s guess.


Minnesota, where General Manager David Kahn is in his first month on the job, is now up to four No. 1 picks, hoping to trade two or three of them to get to No. 2 for Hasheem Thabeet.

At No. 3 sits Mysterioso Oklahoma City GM Sam Presti, who raised eyebrows last spring by taking Russell Westbrook at No. 4, to convert him to point guard.

As well as that worked, Presti is now acting as if he may take Ricky Rubio, the “Spanish Pistol Pete Maravich,” who isn’t really close to the American Pistol Pete, who was a prolific scorer, but is still an exciting young point guard.

Unfortunately, that would mean moving Westbrook to the bench, minimizing the impact of last spring’s coup.

The conventional choice would be Arizona State’s James Harden, a better fit with Westbrook, as opposed to a replacement, but word just surfaced the Thunder has retained a lawyer in Barcelona to negotiate Rubio’s buyout.

Showing where everyone’s heads are at this time of year, a rival GM suggests this was a Presti plant, to make it look as if he were taking Rubio.

For years, GMs have hired private detectives to check out draft prospects. Now GMs may start hiring the gumshoes to tail each other, if they haven’t already.

In any case, here’s how the draft will go, in theory:


1. Clippers: Blake Griffin, 6-8 1/2 , 248, So., Oklahoma. Lone player in draft you would reconfigure a team around goes to team that needs reconfiguring.

2. Memphis: Hasheem Thabeet, 7-1 1/4 , 267, Jr., Connecticut. Owner Michael Heisley’s tab -- and a shot worth taking. Thabeet could turn out to be Saer Sene or Dikembe Mutombo, but if it’s the latter, they can be somebody.

3. Oklahoma City: James Harden, 6-4, 222, So., Arizona State. Savvy shooting guard with playmaking ability, good complement for converted point guard Westbrook. I’m like everyone else, I’ll believe they’ll take Rubio when I see it.

4. Sacramento: Tyreke Evans, 6-4, 221, Fr., Memphis. Had already decided to pass on Rubio if he was there or not, choosing between little Jonny Flynn or this big slasher, who they think can play the point in a running game.

5. Minnesota: Jonny Flynn, 5-11 1/4 , 196, So., Syracuse. Great athlete with 40-inch vertical, warrior mentality and personality coming out of his ears. Admirers see a little Chris Paul in him, if they squint just right.

6. Minnesota: Ricky Rubio, 6-3, 195, Joventut Barcelona. Flynn is their guy. They’re taking Rubio because they know they can trade him.

7. Golden State: Jordan Hill, 6-9 1/4 , 232, Jr., Arizona. Warriors Coach Don Nelson, who’s zany, but no fool, loves his athleticism.

8. New York: Stephen Curry, 6-2, 181, Jr., Davidson. Their lucky day, he drops to them. Shooting point guard, which works great in Mike D’Antoni’s system, in which Steve Nash won back-to-back MVPs.


9. Toronto: DeMar DeRozan, 6-5 1/2 , 211, Fr., USC. Fair shooter, less than that as ball handler, but best athlete in draft. Good fit in their open-court offense, giving him a chance to utilize that athleticism.

10. Milwaukee: Jrue Holiday, 6-3 1/4 , 199, Fr., UCLA. Didn’t get to play point in Westwood but lived up to prep rep on pre-draft circuit.

11. New Jersey: Terrence Williams, 6-5, 213, Sr., Louisville. Soared up charts late, passing college teammate Earl Clark, who’s more gifted but doesn’t play as hard.

12. Charlotte: Gerald Henderson 6-4, 215, Jr., Duke. Wanted Williams but tough luck. Henderson has less game but is strong, defends and is an improving shooter.

13. Indiana: Ty Lawson, 5-11 1/4 , 197, Jr., North Carolina. Players and brass are down on T.J. Ford. Lawson is bigger, shoots better and is lower maintenance.

14. Phoenix: Brandon Jennings, 6-1, 170, Lottomatica Roma. Great young point guard for day Nash is out of there, whether it’s now or later. Spurned college, wasted a year on the bench in Rome, but still cat-quick, savvy and rated as highly as he was as the top-ranked point in the 2008 prep class.

15. Detroit: B.J. Mullens, 6-11 3/4 , 258, Fr., Ohio State. Major talent with question-mark head, who did little as a Buckeye, but with only Kwame Brown and Amir Johnson if Rasheed Wallace leaves, he may be an upgrade.

16. Chicago: James Johnson, 6-7, 257, So., Wake Forest. With futures of Ben Gordon and Kirk Hinrich murky, they wanted Henderson. Nevertheless, Johnson is an impressive young forward, who was a point guard in high school, a la Larry Johnson.

17. Philadelphia: Eric Maynor, 6-2 1/4 , 164, Jr., Texas Tech. Insurance in case Andre Miller leaves.

18. Minnesota: Earl Clark, 6-8 1/2 , 228, Jr., Louisville. Best package of athleticism, size and skills in draft, so what’s he doing down here? Lamar Odom type, for better and worse.

19. Atlanta: Jeff Teague, 6-0 1/4 , 175, So., Wake Forest. Mike Bibby’s contract is up, Hawks won’t go big to sign him, and Acie Law has never happened.

20. Utah: Tyler Hansbrough, 6-8 1/4 , 234, Sr., North Carolina. Perfect fit, Psycho-T and Jerry Sloan. Pros dissed Hansbrough for years, but he almost wound up in lottery after measuring taller, and testing better athletically, than expected.

21. New Orleans: Austin Daye, 6-9 3/4 , 192, Jr., Gonzaga. Fine shooter, skilled player but has frail body, “soft” rep, and looked like a pain on pre-draft circuit.

22. Portland: Darren Collison, 6-0 1/4 , 166, Sr., UCLA. Trail Blazers just moved up two spots to get Dallas’ No. 22 pick. They want a veteran point but might want a young one to groom behind him.

23. Sacramento: DeJuan Blair, So., 6-5 1/2 , 277, Jr., Pittsburgh. Beast inside, if a sawed-off one. Great young man. A steal here if problem knees hold up.

24. Dallas: Omri Casspi, 6-7 3/4 , 211, Maccabi Tel Aviv. First Israeli projected as first-rounder. Admirers see a taller Andres Nocioni. Can be stashed in Europe, depending on how ready they think he is.

25. Oklahoma City: Patrick Mills, 5-11 1/4 , 175, So., St. Mary’s. A lightning-fast, fearless little guy who torched Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Jason Kidd on U.S. team last summer, playing for Australia. Could be game-changer off bench.

26. Chicago: Jonas Jerebko, 6-8, 210. Angelico Biella (Italy). Swedish small forward, whom they’re just taking to stash in Europe for a year.

27. Memphis: Chase Budinger, 6-6 1/2 , 206, Sr., Arizona. Never lived up to promise, or hype, but definitely good enough to take down here. Question remains how much he wants it.

28. Minnesota: Sam Young, 6-5 1/2 , 223, Jr., Pittsburgh. Big, tough shooting guard.

29. Lakers: Nick Calathes, 6-3 1/2 , 185, So., Florida. Has signed with Olympiakos, which is perfect. They’d rather have him there and use the money for Odom and Trevor Ariza.

30. Cleveland: Taj Gibson, 6-8 1/2 , 214, Jr., USC. Even with Shaq, they have front line to rebuild with Ben Wallace retiring, Anderson Varejao a free agent, and Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Joe Smith aging by the day. Gibson was a great shot blocker, and measured bigger than pros thought, but NBA has 214-pound point guards.